Photo: Sebastian Burger
Activate’s Sebastian Burger and Christina Schild got to sit down with Johannesburg-turned-national band Shortstraw on Friday, 10 October. They swapped questions over a cheap bottle of brandy after the band’s fantastic gig held at The Hanger at Rhodes University,
The band has gone from being a small, two-member act in 2007 to becoming a major five-member South African act that is practically a household name. It currently consists of Alastair Thomas (lead vocals), Tom Revington (lead guitar), Gad De Combes (keyboard and backing vocals), Russell Grant (bass guitar) and Jake Rubinstein on Drums. They spoke about riding donkeys in Grahamstown, the method behind their madness and shared details about their upcoming album, Youthless.
You guys have had bloody busy year, touring Japan AND Australia and winning not one but two MK music awards for best album and best music video. Now you’ve got a new album coming out, what’s it all about?
Russell: “Well, we’ve nearly finished recording the new album and are incredibly excited about it. We’ve been writing it as we’ve gone along for about the last year and a half, so some of the songs are quite old and some were written in the last month. We are incredibly close to it but we think we’ve grown quite a bit, some of the songs are quite mature but in a good, funny way, I feel we’ve had the opportunity to get better at what we’re doing as a band. So we’re excited and hope everybody likes it.”
Are you guys moving away from the indie-kwela, indie-bele sound?
Tom: “We invented it, why would we move away from it?”
Al: “(laughing) We most certainly did NOT invent it. It’s always been an influence from flippen bands like the Tutus but I think we’re growing as a band. The new album has an element of it, among other things.”
So are you guys still the same guys who sing about random hook-ups and getting drunk at parties?
Russell: “That’s the thing about it, I think the themes are growing -there’s still a lot of drinking, partying and all that, but you’ll see there’s a little more coming into it.”
Al: “Look it’s growing a little bit but there’s nothing too distant, so yeah we’re trying to keep a bit of the indie-kwela vibe, but not as much as the last album. And in terms of the lyrics there’s a definite theme to the new album which has to do with age. The new album is called Youthless, and its all about how old I am (laughs).”
Russell: “Its all about how old we feel but we’re still young at the same time.”
Tom: “You’re never too old to drink cheap whiskey-”
Al: “It’s cheap brandy, bru.”
Tom: “I mean cheap brandy, on the floor of a varsity establishment.(passes bottle).”
Al: “It’s delicious, Chateux bro.”
Given the amount of touring you guys do, is there any band you would kill to tour with in South Africa?
Tom: “Foals! – oh wait, South Africa…”
Al: “I’m a big fan of aKing.”
Russell: “Yeah aKing would be flippen rad.”
Al: “We want to tour again with all the bands we already have toured with like the Tutus; never met one band we haven’t liked in this country.”
And your recent collaboration with The Kiffness? Any other band you would love to do a colab with?
Al: “PHFat… or maybe Das Kapital seeing as he’s playing down the road.”
Russell: “You can have a lot of fun with those dudes… that type of electro vibe is cool to work with because you remix your stuff. So yeah we’ll see what happens. We’re open to it, that’s the most important thing.”
Jake: “It’s always fun writing something that’s not your genre, it’s cool learning something else.”
So your song writing, is it based off of personal experiences?
Al: “It differs from song to song, we wrote all our songs in our practice room, which we call the hamster cage because… well, it smells like a hamster cage, which is what happens when you put five dudes in a small room with no windows. All the melodies are written on the spot and the lyrics, a lot of which are written on the spot with an idea in mind, are then written a few hours later. So some are going to be based on personal experiences, but as with the previous album a lot of the songs are based on stories that are completely fictitious, because they’re way more interesting than our personal lives.”
Surely riding a donkey through High street is pretty interesting?
Al: “(pauses) Yeah well Tom’s life is pretty fucking amazing . I’m just the guy taking a photo of the guy riding a donkey.”
Russell: “No what is the story with the fucking donkeys walking down the middle of your fucking town? They were just there! They smell! (composes self) I think Tom and the band itself ask the question ‘Why NOT ride the donkey?’ Figuratively speaking, if there’s a donkey, why not ride it?”
What can we expect from the future? Some extensive touring after the album?
Al: “Well we’d love to go back to Japan, that was fucking amazing and then ideally piggy back that into America or Europe.”
Russell: “Yeah nothing’s locked down but that’s the plan.”
Al: “Yeah obviously we’d like to but it’s not a cheap experience for a band that has no following (laughs).”
Russell: “We’re an indie band, we do this all ourselves.”
You guys have pretty much exploded over the last year, going from playing shitty little bars to the main stages at Oppikoppi and Rocking the Daisies. How does it feel ? Do you ever sit back and think “damn we’re lucky”?
Al: “Oh yeah every day man, I mean it’s something we talk about from time to time. I mean it’s not like it just landed in our laps, we’ve been going for about seven years now, it’s been a long hard mission for us. It’s always nice when hard work pays off and yeah, it’s super flattering.”
Speaking of your origins, would you ever peroxide your hair again?
Al: “(chucking) Ah fuck off.”
Russell: “It was a good look hey.”
So lastly, Keanu Reeves….why?
Al: “Why Keanu Reeves?”
Gad: “Why peroxide your hair dude?”
Russell: “Why not Keanu Reeves dude? Every one of our albums has that kind of had the silly side, which is kind of the part of Shortstraw that’s important. We’ve never wanted to put it front and centre but it’s the part that keeps us fun and different, especially Al because its part of his humour. It’s been the Keanu Reeves, it’s been the synthesizer and we’ve got something coming in the new album that we think is particularly fucking silly that’s great.”
Al: “You’ll just have to wait and see bro, there’s a song on the new album about another famous actor.”
Russell: “Yeah it’s a goodie.”
When is the new album looking to be released?
Al: “Well we’ve set a deadline that we’re not going to meet (laughter). That was for pre-order, but I think we’ll stick to the actual release date of 6 January 2015.”
Russell: “First day back at work.”
Al : “You can pre-order in December but it’ll be released in January, and then we’re going to tour at the end of January. Hopefully back to Grahamstown.”